Posts Tagged ‘Shawn Phillips’

Long Form No. 2

February 3, 2015

Posts about Shawn Phillips have rolled through this blog at all three of its locations often enough that his name is among those on the right-side indices both here and at the EITW Archives site, but I noticed the other week that I’ve never shared – either as an mp3 in the early days or as a video – the suite that opens Phillips’ 1970 album Second Contribution.

The suite starts with the first hushed a capella notes of the song colloquially known as “Woman” – a tune that actually has the unwieldy title of “She Was Waiting For Her Mother At The Station In Torino And You Know I Love You Baby But It’s Getting Too Heavy To Laugh” – and goes on for more than thirteen minutes, taking us through the titles “Keep On,” “Sleepwalker” and “Song for Mr. C.”

There’s something – I’ve never been quite sure what – about that four-song sequence, and in fact the entire Second Contribution album, that says to me “Early Seventies” in a way that not much, if any, other music can. My early Seventies – from 1970 to 1974 – bridged the years between high school and the first few years of college, and the ideas and images that flit through my mind when I hear that four-song suite range from used record shops hiding treasures in ramshackle buildings; sunlit bicycle rides with girls I knew in both high school and college; my first beer, my first beard, my first kiss and a few other firsts; and the general sense of (sometimes amiable) confusion among me and my friends about what we would do with our lives in a world that was changing faster than we (and our parents) could truly comprehend.

I’m pretty sure that I first heard Second Contribution on Rick’s turntable not long after the record came out. I certainly knew the album well from hearing it at his place by the spring of 1972, when Phillips performed at St. Cloud State the week I was grounded (a tale I told not long ago). And whenever I heard Second Contribution or the later albums Collaboration and Faces (both of which I also heard at Rick’s, I think, as well as at parties around campus), I told myself I needed to find those albums, especially Second Contribution.

That took years, though. There was so much other music I wanted to explore, and even with used records at the various shops in St. Cloud being priced cheaply, there was only so much cash at hand. And life moved along, taking me from St. Cloud to Denmark and back and then on to the Twin Cities and back and then eventually to Monticello and a job as a reporter. And one Saturday in 1981, as I browsed a bin of used records at a flea market, I came across a copy of Second Contribution. When I got it home and onto the turntable, however, there was a fair amount of noise covering the quiet introduction of “She Was Waiting . . .” The rest of the record was okay, though, and I reveled in the remembered sounds and the images and ideas they brought back. Sadly, the Other Half was not impressed, and I played the record rarely for the rest of our time together.

I tried to upgrade the quality of my Second Contribution vinyl a couple of times during my years in Minneapolis as the 1990s turned to the 2000s, but no matter how good the records looked, Phillips’ quiet starting vocal was buried in hiss. Then, one day in late 2005, as I wandered through our local music emporium looking to spend some Christmas money, I found the album on CD, and later that day, I heard the album’s quiet and haunting opening moments the way they were recorded, just like I’d first heard them on Rick’s turntable so many years earlier.

And the entire album, especially the four-song opening suite offered below, still sounds to me like the early 1970s felt.

On Loss & Grief

October 31, 2014

We all, through the courses of our lives, lose people whom we love: Parents, maybe spouses, sometimes children, certainly friends, and often lovers. When the lost one is young, the loss carries with it as well the loss of possibility, of what that young person could have built with his or her life. All of us left behind grieve the absence, yes, but we also grieve for the spouse never chosen, the children never born, the jobs never won, the music never heard. And we learn that with the passage of years, grief does become less acute, but we also learn that – like a radioactive isotope with its half-life – grief never really goes away.

That may be the final gift of grief: that it never fully goes away, that despite the passage of time it always reminds us of what we had in those who were taken from us, and it does so more and more gently with each passing year.

And we remember.

Text adapted from a May 2013 post.
Music: “We” by Shawn Phillips, 1972.

Saturday Single No. 415

October 18, 2014

As I did the dishes Thursday afternoon, I kept track of the tunes coming from the little mp3 player so I could post the list on Facebook. I no longer offer Dishwashing Music daily, but I do so maybe twice a week these days, usually when the player gives me an intriguing set of songs.

Thursday’s set was just that: “It Don’t Come Easy” by Ringo Starr, “Get Together” by the Youngbloods, “Pain” by the Mystics, “Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty, “No Time” by the Guess Who, “The Boxer” by Simon & Garfunkel and “The Ballad Of Casey Deiss” by Shawn Phillips. I chose to highlight the Shawn Phillips track, as I hadn’t heard it for a while.

And as I searched at YouTube for a video of the tune and then listened to it to make sure it would work for my post, I wondered idly when Phillips – a Texan who currently lives in South Africa – would make his way back to Minnesota for some performances. He came through St. Cloud a few years ago, and I somehow missed it. Shaking my head regretfully, I finished the Facebook post and went on with my afternoon.

The Texas Gal came home, and I walked across the street to check on the mail. When I came back in, she was on the phone with someone. That someone said something funny and she laughed, and as she did, she handed the phone to me. The caller, it turned out, was my long-time pal Rick, calling from the southern Minnesota town of Kenyon, where he and his family moved a couple of years ago.

After some pleasantries, he told me the news: Shawn Phillips was playing a concert Saturday (today) in the small town of Zumbrota, about seventeen miles east of Kenyon. “Zumbrota?” I asked.

“I know, I know,” Rick said. “It’s weird. But that’s how Phillips is. He finds small venues when he’s around Minnesota.”

That’s true, and it’s part of Phillips’ continuing affection for Minnesota, which for some reason was one of the few places – along with his native Texas – where his records sold well and his concerts were well-attended back in the early 1970s, when his unique combination of rock and folk brought him some attention and some sales.

Phillips’ chart presence was not massive: Between 1971 and 1976, four of his albums reached the Billboard 200; two others bubbled under, including my favorite, 1970’s Second Contribution; two of his singles reached the Billboard Hot 100 during those years, and two others bubbled under. Nevertheless, whenever he came through St. Cloud in those years, tickets to his shows were hard to get.

“So,” Rick continued, “there are a bunch of us going.” He mentioned a few names, and they were folks I know, some fairly well. “And,” he went on, “I was wondering if you wanted to come down and see the show. I’ll cover the ticket. I figure I owe you a ticket to see Shawn Phillips.”

Well, that was true. Back in May of 1972, I had a pair of tickets on my dresser for a weeknight Phillips concert in St. Cloud State’s Stewart Hall, one for me and one for Rick. On the Saturday evening before – and I feel as if I’ve told this tale here before although I couldn’t find it in the blog’s Word files – I saw Rick standing at the corner of his lawn, seemingly waiting for someone. I walked across the street to chat with him as he waited, and he invited me to a party – a kegger – in a place called Hidden Valley somewhere near the small town of Sartell, which at that time was about ten miles north of St. Cloud. (The cities have expanded during the past forty-two years and now border each other.)

I tagged along to the party with Rick and came home sometime after midnight, drunk and ill. My parents, to understate things, were not amused. I was grounded for the next week: Home from college right after work each day, no evening excursions, no friends visiting, no phone calls. Well, I deserved some kind of discipline, and I could still see my (potential) girlfriend during the day. The only thing that would really hurt would be missing Shawn Phillips.

I got my tickets to Rick. I think my folks called him, and he came over and picked them up. He says I dropped them to him out of my bedroom window, which is a far better tale, so we’ll go with that. I don’t know who used the ticket that would have been mine. As it happened, KVSC, the college radio station, broadcast Phillips’ show from Stewart Hall, so on the night of the concert, I was able to hear his performance. But it would have been far better to be there. So, yes, Rick was correct as we talked on the phone two days ago: He owed me a ticket to a Shawn Phillips concert.

Zumbrota, however, is 130 miles away, a lengthy drive for me. I’d stay a night in a hotel in Kenyon owned by one of Rick’s in-laws, and hotel stays present their own challenges for me. And I’ve just barely gotten over whatever bug it was that laid me cross-wise this past week. So for reasons of budget and health, I had to decline the offer. Rick understood. We talked a bit about an upcoming Strat-O-Matic get-together in St. Cloud, and then I told him to enjoy the Shawn Phillips show. And I told him that the long-standing debt is no longer on the books.

All of that, then, made it easy to find a tune for this morning. Here, from Shawn Phillips’ 1970 album Second Contribution, is “The Ballad of Casey Deiss,” and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Back To Garden City

March 18, 2014

As you might recall, we spent a little bit of time last Saturday poking around a music survey released on March 15, 1974, by radio station KUPK of Garden City, Kansas. The thirty-record survey showed some familiar records, mostly at the upper end, and a fair number of records not so familiar. Four of the records on the KUPK survey, I noted, didn’t even dent the Billboard charts or its Bubbling Under section, and I chose one of those four – “Roll It” by Nino Tempo & 5th Ave. Sax – for our Saturday Single.

In addition, I noted that nine other records on the Garden City survey were ranked a good deal higher than they ever got on the Billboard charts. Now, it’s not out of the ordinary for records to do better in one market than they do nationally. But thirteen out of thirty? That seemed a bit odd. Here, listed by their rankings on the KUPK survey, are those thirteen records and their Billboard peaks:

No. 12: “Star” by Stealers Wheel, No. 29.
No. 16: “On A Night Like This” by Bob Dylan, No. 44.
No. 19: “I’m A Train” by Albert Hammond, No. 31.
No. 20: “Music Eyes” by Heartsfield, No. 95.
No. 22: “Roll It” by Nino Tempo & 5th Ave. Sax, did not chart.
No. 23: “Skybird” by Neil Diamond, No. 75.
No. 24: “Loving Arms” by Kris Kristofferson & Rita Coolidge, No. 86.
No. 25: “You’re So Unique” by Billy Preston, No. 48.
No. 26: “When The Morning Comes” by Hoyt Axton, No. 54.
No. 27: “All The Kings And Castles” by Shawn Phillips, did not chart.
No. 28: “Stone Country” by Johnny Winter, did not chart.
No. 29: “Invisible Song” by the Rainbow Canyon Band, did not chart.
No. 30: “Pepper Box” by the Peppers, No. 76.

Seven of those records were unfamiliar to me, though I knew most of the performers and one of the songs. I’d never heard of the Rainbow Canyon Band (listed only as “Rainbow Canyon” on the KUPK survey) or the Peppers. And I’ve known the song “Loving Arms” for years, but I’d never heard Kris and Rita’s cover. So after sharing “Roll It” last Saturday, I went and found videos of the six remaining unfamiliar records. Then, even though the Shawn Phillips track was one that I knew, I posted a video of it because it was one of those listed that did not chart in Billboard.

The Rainbow Canyon Band, according to the YouTube poster, was a well-known Cleveland group that came to the attention of James Gang drummer Jim Fox, who produced “Invisible Song” and brought James Gang guitarist Tommy Bolin to the sessions. The Peppers, according to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, were an instrumental duo from Paris; “Pepper Box” was the duo’s only charting single.

As I noted last week, I’m not a chart maven; I do have a sense that the KUPK survey is odd in hosting so many singles that out-perform their national ranking. And I noticed a couple of other things that intrigued me about the KUPK survey.

First, in addition to the “Pop & Contemporary” listing, the survey – seen here – had a ten-record listing for easy listening and a twenty-record listing for country, so just from those three lists, it’s evident that the station had vastly different sorts of programming for different day-parts, something not at all rare for small town stations (and, by our estimate based on the 1970 and 1980 censuses listed at Wikipedia, Garden City had about 16,000 residents in 1974).

Supporting that assumption are three notes in the text at the top of the survey: “Capt. Weird, Roger Unruh” offered listeners the program Rock Garden on Saturday nights from 10:30 p.m. to 4 a.m.; Jim Throneberry, the “Morning Mayor” was on the air from 7 to 9; and a new voice on the station was that of Bob Hill, who ran the Country Show from 5:30 to 10 p.m. (And I wonder if some of the records in the “Pop & Contemporary” listing might not have been heard on Capt. Weird’s Rock Garden.)

Here’s a guess at KUPK’s weekday: A morning show with news and farm reports from 4 to 7 a.m. followed by Jim Throneberry until 9 a.m., and then maybe easy listening (with some news at noon) until 5 p.m. After more news, country music from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Then more news, and “Pop & Contemporary” until 4 the next morning. (Perhaps on the FM side; the AM side went off the air at sunset, as friend and faithful reader Yah Shure notes below.)

After pondering that, I took a closer look at the “Pop & Contemporary” listing, and I was struck by the volatility of the survey. Of the thirty records listed, sixteen were new to the survey that week, including two in the top ten: Blue Swede’s “Hooked On A Feeling” and Rick Derringer’s “Rock & Roll, Hoochie Koo.” I’d love to have seen the KUPK surveys from the week before and the week after, but unfortunately, the March 15, 1974, survey is the only one from KUPK available at the Airheads Radio Survey Archive, and a quick Googling found no others (although I did learn that the Davis Sisters of nearby Meade, sponsored by KUPK, won the 1973 Kansas State Fair Talent Contest).

As it happens, KUPK radio is no longer on the air; KUPK-TV is a satellite station of KAKE-TV in Wichita, about two hundred miles away; a segment of KAKE’s nightly show originates from a newsroom at the KUPK studios. I assume that arrangement dates from the Garden City station’s founding in 1964, as the call letters KUPK, according to Wikipedia, are meant to symbolize Kup-Kake.

(The station’s history is not quite right in that preceding paragraph. Yah Shure also untangled the KUPK story in his note, and he gets my thanks.)

So what does all this mean? I have absolutely no idea. It’s just interesting stuff – interesting to me, anyway – from forty years ago. And we’ll close this morning with what’s likely my favorite record of the thirty listed on the KUPK Music Survey from mid-March 1974: “When The Morning Comes,” on which Hoyt Axton got some help from Linda Ronstadt. As noted above, the record – from Axton’s 1974 album Life Machine – went to No. 54 on the Billboard pop chart (and to No. 10 on the country chart).

‘Bright White . . .’

January 16, 2014

This morning’s task here at the EITW studios was to sort the 73,000 or so mp3s on the shelves, looking for titles with the word “white” in them. That’s in preparation, of course, for the ninth and final chapter of the adventure we call Floyd’s Prism, which has thus far covered the seven colors of the spectrum and black.

Our sorting got complicated right away. First of all, there are many tracks in the collection by both the Average White Band and Tony Joe White. And then, not only does the RealPlayer sorting function take into account title, artist name and album title (or record label, if the mp3 was better known as a single), but it also sorts for the various notes appended to the mp3s by their creators.

And when I turn my records into mp3s, I have the habit – most of the time – of appending a note that says “Ripped from vinyl by whiteray.” So there are many, many mp3s that show up in the search that have no connection to “white” in their titles, their artists or their album titles or record label names. I don’t recall ripping a live version of Gregg Allman performing “Dreams” during a 1974 concert in Boston, but I’m glad I did. I remember ripping in its entirety the 1982 album Chipmunk Rock, and I sort of regret that (but only sort of; it is a little bit of a hoot to hear Alvin, Simon and Theodore take on Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and other tunes of that vintage).

Anyway, I’m sorting things out, looking for titles with “white” in them. I’ll have plenty to choose from, so I thought that as I sort and research, I’d offer a preview of sorts today. Here’s the title track to Shawn Phillips’ 1973 album, Bright White.

I’ll be back Saturday with a single, and we’ll dig into “White” next week.

‘Violet’

November 13, 2013

As promised yesterday, we’ll continue today with the next installment of Floyd’s Prism, and when we search in the mp3 stacks for tunes with “violet” in their titles, we get a minimal result: only thirty-six titles.

And most of them have to be discarded, as is generally the case. First off the pile are a couple of singer-songwriter albums: Madison Violet’s Americana-tinged 2009 album, No Fool For Trying, and Sarah Alden’s 2012 effort, Fists Of Violets, which is more difficult to characterize.

Then, we lose some individuals tracks whose titles come close: “Violetta” from the 1962 album A Taste of Honey by exotica master Martin Denny; “Goodbye To the War; Goodbye To the Violets” from the 1973 album Weltschmerzen by the People’s Victory Orchestra & Chorus; “Violets for Your Furs” from Frank Sinatra’s 1954 album, Songs for Young Lovers; U2’s “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” from the 1992 album, Achtung Baby; and versions of Eric Andersen’s “Violets of Dawn” from the Robbs (1967), Rick Nelson (1969), Mary Chapin Carpenter (2009) and Andersen himself (1966, as noted here yesterday).

That leaves us with six tracks, which was our target. So on we go.

The British-based folk rock band Eclection recorded only one album during its two-year (1967-69) existence, but the self-titled album, released in 1968, is pretty good and not as Brit-centered as one might expect. In the liner notes for the 2001 reissue of the album, Richie Unterberger wrote, “The combination of male-female harmonies, optimistic lyrics with shades of romantic psychedelia, folk-rock melodies, acoustic-electric six- and twelve-string guitar combinations, and stratospheric orchestration couldn’t help but bring to mind similar Californian folk-pop-rock of the mid-to-late 1960s.” The track “Violet Dew” doesn’t quite cover all of those bases, but it covers a lot of them. Perhaps the most noticeable thing as I listen this morning is the remarkable voice of singer Kerrilee Male, who left the band later in 1968 to go home to Australia and seemingly, from anything I can find online this morning, never recorded again.

Shawn  Phillips’ work from the early 1970s has shown up frequently in this space (though perhaps not for a while), but his later work not so much. That’s unfortunate, as Phillips’ later work is worth hearing. The difference, I suppose, is that his work from the latter portion of the 1970s does not carry the same time-and-place weight for me as does his earlier stuff; I didn’t hear much of the later work at the time it came out. Still, nearly every time something pops up from his late 1970s albums, I’m glad it did so. Today, it’s “Lady in Violet” from his 1978 album Transcendence, about which I said in 2007: “It’s a pretty good album, of a piece with the rest of his work, although the lyrics don’t seem to stand up as well . . . . Musically, it’s enjoyable with a breath-taking moment or two.” Whether any of those moments show up in “Lady in Violet” is your call, I guess. I think they do.

Without doubt, the finest offering among the six surviving “Violet” tracks is “Violet Eyes” by Levon Helm. Found on his 1980 album, American Son, the track offers harmonies and an overall feeling that echo the best albums of The Band. According to All Music Guide, the track was recorded in Nashville: “While recording a few songs for the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter, in which he played Loretta Lynn’s father, Levon Helm and friends just kept the tape rolling.” And as I listen this morning, I wonder why no solo tracks from Helm showed up on my long-ago Ultimate Jukebox. So, in what I imagine could be – perhaps should be – the last instance of Jukebox Regrets, I’ll acknowledge that “Violet Eyes” and “Even A Fool Would Let Go” (from Helm’s 1982 self-titled album) should have been part of the Ultimate Jukebox.

Maybe it doesn’t happen so much anymore (or maybe I just don’t see it), but a few years ago the simple mention of Coldplay at a forum or bulletin board – during a time when that band was perhaps the most popular band in the world – would spark arguments, dismissive comments and utter vitriol aimed at Chris Martin and his mates. I never understood that. I don’t count Coldplay among my favorites, but I don’t find the group’s music unlistenable. And I do like very much several tracks from the group, including “Violet Hill” from the 2008 album Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends.

To label something as “glossy Americana” might be a contradiction, but that’s what I hear when I listen to the 2011 CD Barton Hollow by the duo called the Civil Wars. The album by Joy Williams and John Paul White offers mostly rootsy ballads that seem to have been worked over until they shine, which is not an awful idea, but some part of me wants a few unsanded and unvarnished bits in my folk music. Still, I find Barton Hollow enjoyable, and that holds true for the instrumental “The Violet Hour” this morning.

I’m not sure how I got hold of Jeremy Messersmith’s 2010 album, The Reluctant Graveyard. There are a number of public relations firms that email me regularly, offering CDs or downloads, so I’m assuming that’s how I heard of Messersmith, who is based in Minneapolis. And having done some digging and some closer listening this morning, I have to add Messersmith – who’s gained a lot of critical acclaim in the past few years – to that long list of musicians to whom I should pay greater attention. As to this morning’s task, “Violet!” is one of the better tracks on The Reluctant Graveyard. Here’s the (rather quirky) official video:

A Baker’s Dozen For The Heartstrings

July 27, 2011

Originally posted August 6, 2008

Boy, I gotta pay attention to what I write.

I was wandering through the cyberattic last evening, seeing if any of last spring’s posts needed reviewal or brought up something more to write about. And I found a post in which I listed my three favorite singles.

They were “Summer Rain,” a 1967 single by Johnny Rivers, “We” from Shawn Phillips, released in 1972 , and “Long, Long Time,” Linda Ronstadt’s 1970 minor hit. That was on May 24.

Then, less than three weeks ago, I offered up the Association’s “Cherish” as the perfect pop-rock single.

Now, there may be a difference between a favorite single and “perfect” single, but it would be slight. What the comparison between the two posts means is that I’ve been in the process of refining my views, and when reminded of another possibility – or when recalling something I’ve forgotten for a short time – I can modify my views. For some reason, when I was writing the May post headed by “Summer Rain” – sparked by a discussion at a bulletin board – I didn’t think about “Cherish.”

Why? Because I forgot about it. I wrote the bulletin board post that sparked my post here off the top of my head, and the Association record slipped my mind. But as I look at the four songs in question – the three from the May post and “Cherish,” I realize that they all do come from a list I did put together some time ago, a list of songs guaranteed to tug at my heart. They don’t all have memories of young women attached to them, although some of them do. But every one of them – when it pops up on the radio or the RealPlayer – will make me slow down for a moment or two, during which the bartender of my soul serves me a cup of bittersweet wine.

So, after excluding “Cherish,” and Bob Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” as I posted both here fairly recently, here are the thirteen best songs remaining on that list:

A Baker’s Dozen for the Heartstrings
“I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” by the Supremes & the Temptations, Motown single 1137, 1968

“Summer Rain” by Johnny Rivers, Imperial single 66267, 1967

“It Don’t Matter To Me” by Bread, Elektra single 45701, 1970

“Long, Long Time” by Linda Ronstadt, Capitol single 2846, 1970

“Hey Tomorrow” by Jim Croce from You Don’t Mess Around With Jim, 1972

“I Honestly Love You” by Olivia Newton-John, MCA single 40280, 1974

“Turn Around, Look At Me” by the Vogues, Reprise single 0686, 1968

“We May Never Pass This Way (Again)” by Seal & Crofts, Warner Bros. single 7740, 1973

“We” by Shawn Phillips, A&M single 1402, 1972

“All That Heaven Will Allow” by Bruce Springsteen from Tunnel of Love, 1987

“Sentimental Lady” by Fleetwood Mac from Bare Trees, 1972

“Cobwebs and Dust” by Gordon Lightfoot from If You Could Read My Mind, 1970

“Four Strong Winds” by Neil Young from Comes A Time, 1978

A few notes:

Most of these, I acknowledge, are pop or singer-songwriter stuff, pretty mellow tunes for soul-searching in the dark hours, but the opener, well, even when the performers at Motown were baring their souls, they did so with a groove. The opening drums (has to be Benny Benjamin, I think) and then the low horns, followed by the horn chorus, well, all I can still say, forty years after I first heard it, is wow! My reference books are all packed away, or I’d credit the producer. I may be wrong, but it doesn’t sound light enough for a Smokey Robinson session. Maybe Holland-Dozier-Holland, or possibly even Berry Gordy himself. Anyone out there know? Whoever did it, they got it right.*

Bread recorded “It Don’t Matter To Me” twice. The first version, on the group’s first, self-titled album in 1969, sounds flatter than the single version that was released a year later. That’s likely recording technique instead of performance, and my preference for the single instead of the album track is likely based on familiarity, but the single version does seem the better of the two.

I expect a summons from the Taste Police – a term I’ve borrowed from fellow blogger Any Major Dude – regarding the Newton-John selection. Well, I’m guilty! Cuff me and lead me away! Make me listen to Ambrosia and Air Supply! “I Honestly Love You” is a good song (Peter Allen’s work) and a good recording. And I think it’s by far the best thing Newton-John has recorded in a long and indifferent career.

All of these have lyrics designed to make one sigh or worse, but the best lyric here might be “All That Heaven Will Allow,” with Springsteen’s working man taking us through three uses of the title phrase with three different meanings. A neat trick, and the Boss makes us believe it.

Fleetwood Mac should have had a hit with “Sentimental Lady” when Bare Trees came out in 1972. As it turned out, a remake by writer Bob Welch reached No. 8 in 1977, but the original is by far the better version of the song.

*As it happens, “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” was not produced by any of those luminaries I mentioned, but by Frank Wilson, about whom I know nothing. Note added and post revised slightly July 27, 2011.

A Friday Walk Through The Junkyard

June 18, 2011

Originally posted March 14, 2008

My to-do list has gotten longer as the week has progressed. Tomorrow is the annual tabletop hockey competition here, and I have much left to accomplish. I do have some interesting albums to rip: I’ve gotten five fairly rare albums in the mail in recent weeks, with another – the Blue Rose album I mentioned Wednesday – on the way.

But time is short today, so instead of trying to rush one of those albums along and botching it, I thought I’d take one of my regular random walks through the junkyard and see what we find from the years 1951-2000.

“Fridgidaire Woman” by Son Seals from Living In The Danger Zone, 1991

“Screamer for Phlyses” by Shawn Phillips from Contribution, 1970

“Mack the Knife” by Bobby Darin, Atco single 6147, 1959

“Sad, Sad Day” by Muddy Waters from King Bee, 1981

“Corrina” by King Biscuit Boy with Crowbar from Official Music, 1970

“Wild Horses” by Leon Russell from Stop All That Jazz, 1974

“Little Girl” by Redbone from Redbone, 1970

“Pleasure” by the Peanut Butter Conspiracy from The Great Conspiracy, 1968

“Make Love To You” by the Stills-Young Band from Long May You Run, 1976

“The Working Man” by Creedence Clearwater Revival from Creedence Clearwater Revival, 1968

“Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves” by the Eurythmics & Aretha Franklin, RCA single 14214, 1985

“Let Your Lovelight Shine” by the Buddy Miles Express from Expressway To Your Skull, 1968

“Don’t Make Promises” by the Beau Brummels, Warner Bros. single 7014, 1967

“Heavy Church” by Three Dog Night from Naturally, 1970

“Feels So Good” by Chuck Mangione from Feels So Good, 1977

A few notes:

Every three years or so from 1973 through 2000, blues fans could count on a release from Son Seals, an Arkansas-born blues guitarist discovered in a Chicago nightspot by Alligator Records owner Bruce Iglauer. “Frigidaire Woman” comes from Living In The Danger Zone, which, in terms of quality, falls right in the middle of Seals’ nine-album series of works. Seals – who died in 2003 – never made a bad album; his best was most likely Midnight Son from 1976.

I heard “Mack the Knife” the other day as I pulled into the supermarket a parking lot. I waited to leave the car until the song ended, thinking, “I need to get that song into the blog,” and now, the universe has done that for me. The song originated in The Threepenny Opera, a 1928 piece of musical theater by writer Bertolt Brecht and composer Kurt Weill. The story of Macheath and his murderous ways was eventually translated to film in the 1950s and continues to be presented on occasion as live theater. Darin’s swinging version of the show’s opening number contrasts greatly with the staid and stiff version I heard when I listened to a recording of the opera. Louis Armstrong recorded a similar version of the tune, but it was Darin’s version that was the hit, going to No. 1 for nine weeks in the autumn of 1959. (Darin’s version – as did Armstrong’s before it – name-checks “Miss Lotte Lenya” during the final verses. In the mid- to late Sixties, when I heard the song, I was confused, as I knew Lotte Lenya only as the haggard and unappealing actress who’d played Soviet agent Rosa Klebb in the James Bond film, From Russia With Love. It wasn’t until years later that I learned that Lotte Lenya had been Kurt Weill’s wife, had acted in various stagings of The Threepenny Opera and had earned a Tony award for one of them, in the mid-1950s.)

King Bee, produced by Johnny Winter, was – from what I can tell – the last album in the long career of Muddy Waters. For the most part, the album is new versions of Waters’ work on the Chess label (including “Sad, Sad Day”), but the album is still a pretty good way to spend some time.

The Peanut Butter Conspiracy was a Los Angeles-based psychedelic band, and The Great Conspiracy was the group’s second album. Some of the songs on the record stretch out a little into some trippy mid-Sixties noodling and jamming. “Pleasure” isn’t one of those; it’s a fairly concise song that’s typical of second-level psychedelic pop rock. Good for what it is.

Pretty much right from the start, Creedence Clearwater Revival was a great band. The misfortune that John Fogerty and his bandmates had to face was that, at the time, bands that recorded long, trippy songs full of obscure allusions sold lots of records and were taken seriously, while bands that recorded good three-minute singles were relegated to a less-serious room, kind of like eating at the kids’ table on Thanksgiving. But listening to CCR’s records today, even the stuff that wasn’t released as singles has aged an awful lot better than the work of a lot of those groups that were taken so seriously four decades ago. (Yeah, CCR stretched out sometimes, as on its version of “Suzy Q.” and “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.” But those are the group’s less successful efforts, I think; the group’s strength was the three-minute single, and CCR did that about as well as anyone ever has. My favorite happens to be “Green River.”)

I think the 1985 collaboration between the Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin tends to get lost in the memory of the Eighties as a decade of synths, drum machines and big hair (and the Eighties were all that). But “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves” truly cooks. And it’s probably Aretha’s last great record.

I mentioned the other day the breadth of writers from which Three Dog Night got its material. “Heavy Church,” a record I’ve always liked a lot, ever since I got Naturally as a Christmas gift in 1971, was written by Alan O’Day, with whom I had a brief correspondence about “Rock & Roll Heaven” a while back. O’Day’s own version showed up on his 1973 album, Caress Me Pretty Music.

Chuck Mangione had a No. 4 hit in early 1978 with a single edit of “Feels So Good.” This is the nine-minute album version.

An Album Forgotten, Now Finally Found

June 11, 2011

Originally posted February 8, 2008

The world is filled with music I’ve always meant to acquire.

And the wonderful – and horribly unfair – thing about that is that musicians keep making more of it all the time, making it an utter impossibility that I’ll ever catch up.

I’ve been aware of being behind for nearly forty years now, since I started taking pop and rock seriously during my junior year of high school, which ended in 1970. By the end of that year, I had the bare beginnings of a record collection and was keeping my eyes and ears open for whatever came next. As I’ve mentioned before, my first collecting project was to obtain everything the Beatles had released, and as 1971 dawned, I had six Beatles albums, one-third of the eighteen that existed in the versions released here in the U.S. by Capitol/Apple and United Artists (which released the American version of the soundtrack to A Hard Day’s Night).

I was also becoming more aware of other things that I liked, other musicians and bands that I enjoyed. Many of them seemed to me better suited to be heard from the speaker of my old radio in my room than from the speakers of the stereo in the rec room. I was beginning to realize, in other words, that not all of the music I liked would merit investment in an LP. Some of it was best left to radio or to singles, a medium in which I rarely invested.

Let’s take a look at the Cash Box Top Ten for the first week in 1971 and see which of those singles I ever bought on an LP (by that group or artist; I’m not going to spend hours mucking around in all the K-Tels and Roncos), and when.

The Cash Box Top Ten for January 2, 1971:

“My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison (All Things Must Pass, first purchased in 1981.)

“Knock Three Times” by Dawn (Never purchased.)

“One Less Bell to Answer” by the 5th Dimension (Greatest Hits on Earth, purchased in 2001.)

“Black Magic Woman” by Santana (Abraxas, purchased in 1989.)

“Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” by Chicago (Chicago Transit Authority, purchased in 1978.)

“Stoned Love” by the Supremes (Never purchased.)

“The Tears of a Clown” by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles (Anthology, purchased 1998.)

“I Think I Love You” by the Partridge Family (Never purchased.)

“No Matter What” by Badfinger (Never purchased.)

“The Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin (Led Zeppelin III, purchased 1999.)

(I’m not going to dig into the CD index, but as to mp3s, I have seven of those ten songs; I do not have the Dawn, 5th Dimension or Supremes songs. The Partridge Family tune? Yes, I have the mp3, and that falls neatly into “guilty pleasures,” a category that JB the DJ discussed this week at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’.)

All in all, that’s not a bad Top Ten. We surely wouldn’t have to look too hard to find a worse Top Ten in that era. But if I wasn’t collecting that music at the time, what was I collecting?

Here’s what the log says I acquired in 1971:

The Beatles (The White Album) by the Beatles
Crosby, Stills & Nash by Crosby, Stills & Nash
“Yesterday” … And Today by the Beatles
Pearl by Janis Joplin
Ram by Paul & Linda McCartney
Stephen Stills by Stephen Stills
Jesus Christ Superstar
Abbey Road by the Beatles
Something New by the Beatles
13 by the Doors
Aqualung by Jethro Tull
Meet the Beatles! by the Beatles
Naturally by Three Dog Night
The Concert for Bangla Desh by George Harrison et al.

Not a bad selection for a new listener in 1971. (Out of those, Stephen Stills, Pearl and Abbey Road remain among my favorite albums. The Jethro Tull has not aged well, to my ears.)

There would have been more on the list except for a bargain I made with my parents in January. Browsing through the records at the local J.C. Penney store, I found a copy of the White Album. Lacking the $9 or so that was the price for the double album, I called home to get a credit card purchase authorized. Okay, said Dad, but no more records until school was out. I agreed, and I came darned close to living up to that agreement. A school group was selling the Crosby, Stills & Nash album as part of a fundraiser during the last days of school, and I bought the record with maybe two days left in the school year.

But, as must be true for any lover of any type of music, there was always music that I wanted to have that never came home. Sometimes that’s through oversight, sometimes through simply never running into the record (or CD) when the cash to invest was available.

One of the records from 1971 I always intended to buy was Shawn Phillips’ Collaboration. Rick and I talked about it when we got wind of its release, and he bought it, so I got to listen to it occasionally, enough to know I liked it but not enough to really know it well. As the Seventies advanced, I saw Rick less and less as our lives diverged. And somewhere along the line, as I began to frequent flea markets and used record shops, I realized that I hadn’t heard Collaboration – or indeed, any Shawn Phillips – for a while. I found a decent copy of Faces, Phillips’ fourth major release, and a slightly scratched copy of Second Contribution, which I believe was his second major label release. But I never found a copy of Collaboration until the mid-1990s, when I came across one at Cheapo’s in south Minneapolis that looked okay. It had a minor bit of hiss in the quiet parts.

No matter, I thought to myself as I listened. When I finally get a CD player, I’ll buy the CD. I was assuming that since most artists’ earlier releases were being remastered and issued on CD, Collaboration would be easy to find.

Ha!

I have no idea which reissued album is the most difficult to find on CD, but I would bet that Shawn Phillips’ Collaboration – issued in 1999 on the Wounded Bird label – is in the Top Ten. When I wander online through Amazon, it’s rarely available. When a copy of Collaboration is available through the website’s associates, it’s liable to cost $40 or more. A quick look at GEMM this morning finds only one copy of the CD available, but it’s a Russian reprint and, I suspect, a bootleg.

So when I got my USB turntable, one of the first albums I listened to was my copy of Collaboration. The minor hiss on my old stereo turned into major problems when run through the very sensitive software I use to rip LPs. Even the noise removal utility didn’t help without distorting the music. So I went looking and found another LP copy of the album here in town. I laid it on the USB and fired up the software. It was better, but still too hissy in the quiet parts, which abound.

I gave up and figured if I were supposed to have Collaboration in my RealPlayer, it would come to me. And not long ago, I ripped and shared Transcendence, a later Shawn Phillips album, here and at a couple bulletin boards I frequent. I got an email from a colleague at one of the boards, thanking me and asking what it was I was seeking. Collaboration, I wrote back. And soon, I got a link to what I think is a rip from the rare CD, along with permission to share it here.

The album has the same sense as Contribution and Second Contribution: Quiet and sometimes haunting melodies, outstanding musicianship, lyrics that from a distance of more than thirty years can seem forced but are often nevertheless insightful (if clearly rooted in the early 1970s by their attitude), and an overall sound that Phillips fans will love. Some assistance on strings is provided by Paul Buckmaster, who did the same for many of Elton John’s recordings around the same time. I’m not sure it’s quite as good as Second Contribution, but it’s certainly a fine album.

Tracks:
Us We Are
Burning Fingers
Moonshine
For Her
What’s Happenin’ Jim
Armed
Spaceman
Times Of A Madman, Trials Of A Thief
8500 Years
The Only Logical Conclusion
Coming Down Soft & Easy
Springwind

Shawn Phillips – Collaboration [1971]

Shawn Phillips’ Moment In Time

May 25, 2011

Originally posted December 7, 2007

Earlier this week, I mentioned that one of the regular events at St. Cloud State during the late 1960s and early 1970s was an annual performance by guitarist Leo Kottke. The same held true for Shawn Phillips: Once a year for about four or five years, the Texas native would come into town for a concert, either in the acoustically challenged basketball venue Halenbeck Hall or in Stewart Hall auditorium, which seated fewer people but was better suited for musical performances.

Phillips’ annual visit to St. Cloud – coupled with performances at the same time in the Twin Cities – was a reflection of his significant popularity here in the Upper Midwest. I remember reading a pre-concert piece in one of the Twin Cities papers; the piece noted that Phillips drew larger crowds – and sold more records – in Minnesota than he did anywhere else except his home state of Texas. Phillips said that Minnesotans’ devotion to him was a mystery, but it was a welcome mystery, of course.

He came through St. Cloud twice during my first two years of college, and I saw him once, in Halenbeck Hall during my sophomore year. The 8,000-seat gymnasium wasn’t the best place to hear Phillips, whose softer moments require a venue with some acoustic delicacy, but it was nevertheless a pretty good show. By that time – late 1972 or early 1973 – Phillips had four albums of current work to draw a show from: Contribution from 1970, Second Contribution and Collaboration from 1971, and Faces, which was released in 1972 but includes works from 1969. (All-Music Guide lists two albums from the mid-1960s, both described as fairly standard folk music; I’ve heard neither of them.)

I missed Phillips’ concert in Stewart Hall late during my freshman year after being grounded for the first and only time of my life; I was not yet of legal age and had come home from a party very clearly having imbibed too many beers. As a result, I gave my pair of tickets for the show to Rick. Happily, I was able to listen to the concert on the St. Cloud State radio station.

The highlight of both concerts was Phillips’ performance of the opening song from Second Contribution, the haunting ballad colloquially known as “Woman,” as its actual and unwieldy title is “She Was Waiting For Her Mother At The Station In Torino And You Know I Love You Baby But It’s Getting Too Heavy To Laugh.” The song starts nearly a capella, with Phillips’ high tenor voice backed only by what sounds like tympani, and goes on from there to tie together most of the first half of the album.

Listening to the first four albums today is an exercise in time travel, and it’s especially hard for me to critically assess Second Contribution and Faces, as they are very clearly what I call “time-and-place music,” tunes that tie me into the past. The other two – Contribution and Collaboration – have similar qualities but came to me later, and thus provide an opportunity to take a more clear look at Phillips’ early work.

And what do we find? Well, lyrically, all four albums have lots of hippie mysticism and romantic mythology, as well as some nicely crafted love songs with some inventive and intriguing turns of phrase. And there are a few bits of wit and humor along the way. Musically, Phillips’ work is never less than good, and some of the music in those first four albums is simply stunning, aided by Phillips’ astounding vocal range and – on Second Contribution and Collaboration – by string arrangements from Paul Buckmaster, whose credits include work around the same time with Elton John.

It seems as if Phillips’ moment ended not long after the release of Faces in 1972. The remarkable ballad “We,” was released as a single in 1974, but it got little airplay and evidently didn’t make the Cash Box Top 100.* Phillips continued to release albums through the 1970s, but since then, his releases have been sporadic, with the most recent being No Category in 2003.

Of his first four albums of the 1970s, the only one not in print on CD is Collaboration, which commands prices of $80 or more when the CD is available. The other three early 1970s albums are readily available online for standard prices. Phillips’ later work in the 1970s and 1980s seems to be out of print.

I was going to rip Collaboration to share it today, but it’s a relatively quiet album, and both of my vinyl copies have more surface noise than I care for. So I dipped into Phillips’ later 1970s work and found Transcendence from 1978. It’s a pretty good album, of a piece with the rest of his work, although the lyrics don’t seem to stand up as well, especially on the over-earnest “I’m an American Child (On a Nuclear Pile)” Musically, it’s enjoyable with a breath-taking moment or two. (There are some unavoidable bits of noise here and there, but in general, I think the record was in pretty good shape.)

Tracks:
Take It Easy
I’m an American Child (On a Nuclear Pile)
Implications
Lady in Violet
Good Evening Madam
Lament Pour L’Enfant Mort
Julia’s Letters/Motes of Dust/Ease Your Mind

Shawn Phillips – Transcendence [1978]

* “We” was actually released as a single in late 1972 or early 1973. It entered the Billboard Hot 100 in mid-January 1973 and went to only No. 89. My belief that the single was released in 1974 was based on its appearance during the autumn of that year in the basement jukebox at St. Cloud State’s Atwood Center. Note added May 25, 2011.